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Luke Melia

12/31/2001, 9:50 am, Vientiane, Laos

12/31/2001, 9:50 am, Vientiane, Laos

As Lao people say, happy international new year!

I’m happy and healthy and will celebrate tonight with new friends over a few bottles of Beerlao, Laos’ leading brand. May your celebration and reflection lead you to a wonderful 2002!

12/29/2001, 5:30 pm, Bangkok

12/29/2001, 5:30 pm, Bangkok

From the travelogue list:

Howdy,

I’m am currently in Bangkok’s airport en route to Vientiane, Laos, tapping out this message on a keyboard with Thai characters in addition to the Arabic ones. Laos will be likely be more challenging than my wonderful stay in the city-state of Singapore, where I was cared with generous hospitality by my friend Aji.

Singapore is an easy place to adjust to, coming from the West. It’s clean, and exceedingly well-organized by a government which cares for its population and quality of life, even if that care sometimes shows up as dramatic fines for chewing gum or jaywalking. It’s a diverse city with people and cuisines who hail from throughout Asia, the focus in both food and ethnicities being Chinese, Malay & Indian in that order.

I don’t have my thoughts organized well enough to string together very interesting prose, but I’ll share a few observations…

+ City of the Future and Land of the Hand Phone

If, ten years ago, you asked me to picture a city for a science fiction novel, the images in my head would look a lot like Singapore. A sleek, quiet light rail system called the MRT connects the city east to west and north to south. Payment works with plastic cards read on entry and exit similar to the Metro in Washington DC. Striking architecture in structures like the Singapore Post
building remind me of the Jetsons. Touchscreen computers abound, offering information, government services, bill-payment, email access, or all of the above.

Aji studies in a diploma program at Temasek Polytechnic University called Mechatronics — a combination of robotics and artificial intelligence. Singapore’s extended him a full scholarship in exchange for a three-year commitment to work for a Singaporean company.

Cell phones, called “hand phones” here, are everywhere. In the hands of men and women, children as your as ten, the poor and the rich alike. Friends send each other text messages via their phones all day long, able to tap out messages with their thumbs without looking at the screens. Coverage is near complete, not too difficult for a country whose perimeter you can cover by car
in three hours, and the service is inexpensive. Phones are a fashion statement, with covers, pouches and accessories de rigeur for Singapore’s teens.

+ Daily Life: Food Courts, Singlish, and HDBs

When people are yapping away on their phones on the MRT, as about 25% of a train car is bound to me at any given point (another 10% is texting!), they’re speaking one of three languages. Chinese (Mandarin, specifically), Malay, or Singlish. Singlish is the name for English as it’s spoken colloquially in Singapore. Signature Singlish is the tagging a long “lah” onto the end of any statment. It doesn’t particularly mean anything, lah. Just a way to emphasize your point a bit, lah. It’s most evident in the speech of Singapore’s youth, like Ben, one of the star students in Aji’s Mechatronics program. (He’s described as a Chinese gangster, or “ah-beng”. Besides hip dress and slang-y speak, the best quality of ah-bengs I could discern was that they like video games, date ah-liens and are afraid of the Singapore police.) The other most common Singlish is the use of “can” by itself, or twice… as in: “Is eight o’clock good for you for dinner?” “Can can.” It’s weirder to hear your native tongue spoken so differently around you than it is to be immersed in a
completely foreign one. It’s sort of charming, though, and I found myself experimenting with it within a few days, to the great delight of Aji’s friends.

The food scene in Singapore is awesome. At one meal in “Lau Pa Sat” (translated as “big market”), I had a samosa (Indian), claypot tau-fu (read it as tofu — it’s chinese), and popiah (Singapore-style). The dishes were collected from three different stalls at the market. In total, there were at least 75 to choose from. Needless, to say, it took me an hour of wandering just to decide what to eat.

Aji lives with seven other students, six Indians and one from Mauritius, a small island state that I’d have to look up to tell you where it is. They live in a flat in HDB housing, like many Singaporean families. HDB stands for Housing Development Board, and the complexes are easily identified by the characteristic qualities: a group of 5 to 20 buildings, identically constructed, identically painted, in a cluster. The have good shared common space (though the spaces are posted with prohibitions against doing fun stuff like ball-playing, rollerblading, playing music and bicycle riding) and grocery stores on the premises, often a store from the government subsidized “Fairprice” chain.

+ Onward, Onward, Guitar in Hand

I’ve got to run to catch my flight to Laos, now. On my back is a Yamaha guitar, courtesy of Aji’s incredibly generous girlfriend Sheila. I’ve named it Singapore Devi, after Sheila’s hometown and and last name. I’ll play with love and gratitude.

More soon from another land. Happy to new year to one and all.

All my best,
Luke

12/28/2001, 1:36 am, Singapore

12/28/2001, 1:36 am, Singapore

Alive and smiling in a very wet Singapore. More soon…

12/24/2001, 3:22 am, Long Island

12/24/2001, 3:22 am, Long Island

Had a nice day of haircutting, goodbyes, guitar-playing, and good times with old friends. Before catching a few hours of Zzzz’s and leaving for the airport, I’m sending the following note to my travelogue list:

Dear friends, dear family,

I hope your holiday season is treating you well. May your last days of 2001 be good to you and may 2002 have great stuff in store for us all.

Iím having an airborne Christmas this year (as if the jewish star on top of my familyís tree isnít non-traditional enough). I leave tomorrow on a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Tokyo and then Singapore.

Iíll be gone 4 weeks, and I hope to use this list to share a few stories from my travels. If you want off the list or want to subscribe with a different address, nowís a good time to do it. If I set things up right, there should be instructions in the header of this message.

A rough itinerary: In Singapore, Iíll spend a few days with Aji, a good friend from Bangalore, India. (You might remember Aji from my letter about the night we met [see ďWednesdayís ExpeditionĒ on http://www.lukemelia.com/travel/indialetters3.html]). On Saturday, I fly to Laos, where Iíll celebrate the new year and hopefully find out why so many backpackers say that Laos is their favorite part of Southeast Asia. From Laos, I go overland to Thailand to meet my friend Elbert on January 4th. We plan to go north for a bit and then south in Thailand and be back in Bangkok around the 18th for our flights home.

Iíve purposefully tried to leave my plans a bit vague and leave things up to chance. I only expect to send a few emails to this list, but will check mail when itís convenient, so donít hesitate to drop me a line.

Happy Holidays and Peace & Joy to the World!

-Luke

12/23/2001, 1:50 am, Long Island

12/23/2001, 1:50 am, Long Island

I have no responsibilities.

Left work at around seven last night. I was the last one there on my floor by at least an hour. Trying to get the last of my project handled, and cleaning up my workspace. It felt very strange walking out of the building. I didn’t have that “I’m now on vacation for a month” relief feeling initally. Now, though, it’s starting to kick in.

After work, and before packing for my trip, I had drinks (OJ & club soda for me) with a bunch of friends at Max Fish in the lower east side. The friends were now a majority ex-O2 employees and a handful of current employees. Evidence of moving time. After, went for japanese food with Jess and G., and talked of blogging among other topics. One funny bit: He once had an offer by someone to post to his blog while he was on vacation.

I left Manhattan today for Long Island and I won’t be back until I return from Asia in late January. In some ways I feel like my trip had already begun. I’ve at least begun living out of my backpack as I will for the next 28 days. I succeeded in packing very light, and decided to ditch a pair of shoes so I just have my boots and Tevas. So it’ll be me and my travel pack (that has a zip-off day pack) and the clothes on my back. I’ll have to weigh the pack at the airport. I’m curious. I’m seriously considering buying a cheap guitar while I’m on the road, just to have something to play.

The thwarted plane bombing attempt I read about tonight has me a little rattled, but not enough to change any plans.

I’m going to sleep before three tonight, for a change. Being in a house of sleeping people makes it tough to stay up too late. You have to worry about being quiet too much… Plus, it’s a well-known fact that sleep is contagious. Yawn…

12/21/2001, 1:38 am

Traveler’s cheques, goodbyes, double-checking packing lists. I usually try hard to live in the present, but I can’t help myself right now. I’m on the road in my head already.

I had a respite from that for a few hours last night seeing some incredible live music. The Fab Faux is a Beatles cover band and is phenomenal. “Feel-good music” sounds trite, but if you take it for it’s original and literal meaning, that’s what the show was. An instant (“just add beer”?) community of people that know and love Beatles tunes together enjoying a band that loves to play them. Their rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps touched my core. Don’t pass up a chance to see them perform.

After the show, our group (an amalgam of Anthony’s friends, some from Oxygen, some not) trekked to Sahara East and sat in the backyard eating falafel. Hello? The third week in December? New York City? Dining outside at midnight? Bizarre.

Resolution (I know, I know. I’m a few weeks early…): I will still be capable of relaxing and being laid back when I grow up. I went caroling tonight with a group of people that were generally older than me, plus a few teens and a kid. May of the adults were sort of uptight about the planning and preparation of the caroling. Especially in contrast to the Fab Faux show, it was just plain silly. No need to get bent out of shape about singing.

I wonder if I’ll make New Years resolutions in Laos.

12/20/2001, 9:53 pm

Went Christmas caroling near Ground Zero with Judy & Dani tonight. Coincidentally, a former coworker, Josh Koppel, left a link to an post-9/11 NYC slideshow in my inbox.

12/19/2001, 1:22 am

Don’t bug me. I’m doing business.

I’m buying airline tickets from a travel agent in Singapore via email at 1 AM in New York City. This makes phase two of my trip slightly more real. 6 days or so in Laos. It’s previously surreal nature was due to the fact that I wasn’t sure how the heck I was going to get from Singapore to Laos. Now I know: a hop on a Thai Airways flight and then a trip on a [shudder] Lao Aviation flight. They don’t call this kind of trip an adventure for nothing.

Almost at escape day. My project at work is coming together and I must say, I’m quite ready to kiss my job goodbye for a month. I’ll be leaving with projects nicely wrapped up and no software problems to hop around in my head while I’m gone.

I’ve kept to my pre-trip alcohol-free plan except for a wee bit of red wine with a friend’s home-cooked meal, and it feels good. I enjoy alcohol, but I sure enjoy being totally weaned of it for a while.

Aji’s meeting me at the airport in Singapore, which makes my midnight arrival a piece of cake. It could have been a lot tougher. It’s been over two years since we’ve seen each other. Last time was in Bangalore, India, helping Meeta and I turn over the keys to our apartment to our rotund landlord and pack us off for a flight to Bombay. I’m looking forward to it tremendously. Another thing that wasn’t part of the plan when I decided on the trip. Ah, serendipity.

Bit of non-voyage-news. Volleyball season ended tonight with another three losses and me on the sidelines. I really wanted to play, but listened to the wise words of Will and Anthony and preserved my healing foot for the mountains of northern Thailand. We were 6-24 on the season, a marked improvement from 0-24 last season. Next season starts when I get back. I want to rock it. Huge spikes. Wins. Adoration of screaming fans. High fives and celebratory pitchers of beer. I can practically taste it.

12/17/2001, 12:25 am

The conclusion to yesterday’s nail-biter was that I went to the gym, wrote xmas cards, and cooked dinner. Before you get impressed with my high level of motivation, you should know that I just took a 3-hour nap this evening.

I ran into Meeta at the gym yesterday, and went through her abs routine with her, and hung out chatting a bit after. I peppered with a volleyball player I saw bumping and setting alone. Turns out he was just between games, but it was fun to hit the ball around a little. That’s one big thing to look forward to when I get back from my trip — the winter volleyball season beginning! My plan is to tailor my gym workout to building a good volleyball physique. Wrists, thighs, calves, triceps, jumping… This plan is partially to return working out as a regular part of my life. It’s one of those things that I’m so glad I did after I did it, but that often doesn’t seem a high enough priority for me to make happen.

Went to my first-ever Sunday brunch at Chelsea Commons, something the London Towers crew has made a tradition. The waitress that usually takes care of Kris, Rich & co., Katie, was off today, and so I’m not sure it fully qualifies as my first brunch. Nice place. And great company. Anthony’s parents, up for the weekend, joined us for brunch and I spent the day hanging around with them, playing guitar and singing, and then meandering to Union Square for some holiday shopping. Asked Anthony’s dad a bunch of questions about being a pilot (his hobby) and found out that it’s a lot more affordable than I’d thought. It’s now on my mental list of “things that would be neat to do sometime in my life.”

I sit now with a busy week ahead, a stuffed up right nostril (need more sleep), and a strange feeling of being ill-prepared for my upcoming adventure. The truth is that there’s really not much to do, and I’ve done most of it. I’m glad to have a few days in Singapore at the start of my trip. I should be able to buy anything else I need there.

When I planned the trip, I was in such a different state of mind than I am now. It’s hard to say how much of that change was caused by planning and anticipating the trip and how much by inpendent shifts in the landscape of my life. Their interplay is fascinating, though, and leave me in a state of wonder at what I may be feeling and thinking on my return.

Having recently celebrated Hanukah, I’d like to balance my atheist self out and remember my favorite Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

12/15/2001, 3:17 pm

It’s a beautiful clear and crisp day in New York City. Cold enough to wear a hat but the breeze and sun feel so good on your head.

Met Melissa at Union Square for produce shopping at the Green Market. I call it “greenmarketing” and it’s truly one of my favorite things in the world to do. After buying fruits and veggies (and a delicious now-nearly-all-eaten container of apple-raspberry sauce), we retired to Starbucks, that bastion of globalization. We sat and sipped and talked of girls and boys, friends and lovers, creativity and deja vu. An ideal Saturday morning. (Well, except for the Starbucks setting.)

Afterwards, I did a little shopping for my trip. With my general anti-consumerist bent, I often forget how much fun shopping is. Went to Paragon Sports and a few other places that were on the way home.

Now I sit and contemplate my backpack, my laundry and the cleaning I need to do. The remainder of the day is a mystery. Will I go to the gym? Will I pick out the clothes I’m taking with me? Will I write xmas cards?

While you wonder, consider subscribing to ReadyMade. I just read the New York Times article about it and ordered my trial issue.

LukeMelia.com created 1999. ··· Luke Melia created 1976. ··· Live With Passion!
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